This unique mobile therapy van is an initiative of the Samphia Foundation, an NGO that works with children with developmental disabilities.
It was 2012 when Shruti More came to Kullu for a cycling expedition and met a young girl named Sonali who had Cerebral palsy, a congenital disorder of movement, muscle tone, or posture. Shruti, a physiotherapist herself, had just finished her graduation then, so the moment she saw Sonali, she knew she needed physiotherapy and intervention. Little did Back then, Shruti knew that this one meeting would become the reason behind launching India’s first mobile therapy van.
”During my stay in Kullu, I came across a therapy center, and after a month, when I returned to Mumbai, I wrote a letter to them about Sonali to help her with therapy, and that’s how it started. After six months, I joined the NGO and worked with them for seven years, and I settled here for the same. In 2019 with a larger vision to help such disabled kids, I started my NGO with Rekha Thakur, and since then, we’ve been treating children with disabilities”, said Shruti More, founder of Samphia Foundation.
A ‘moving’ thought
With a team of 12 medical professionals, Samphia Foundation has been treating children with developmental disabilities through physiotherapy, speech therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and more. But this required the parents and the children to visit the center regularly, which was not always possible due to various environmental & physical barriers, physical limitations of the kids, and personal circumstances of the family. ” They were not able to visit the center regularly, and it was very frustrating because we had all the facilities, and yet the kids were not getting benefitted from them,” said Shruti.
And so her team decided to visit the children at their homes, filling the gap in a way. But it was challenging to carry all the aids and appliances each and every time. One day when Shruti and her team were discussing this issue, they came up with an idea. “There was a french physiotherapist with us that day, and we all were on a bus. During the conversation, he said what if we had a bus that could carry everything and we could treat these kids, it could be beneficial. After this, we all did a little research on the internet and found out there were actually such buses in the UK, USA, and Canada. And so yes, that’s where we got the inspiration from”, added Shruti.
Designed in an accessible manner
This colourful bus has cartoons painted all over it and looks appealing and fun. Shruti and her team wanted to give it a fun vibe for the children and ensure that it wasn’t like the regular ambulance or any other bus. ”There’s a lot of stigmas attached to physiotherapy in our country, and people have this negative feeling associated with the ambulance. It usually makes the entire atmosphere very serious. We wanted to keep the fun factor alive so that the kids can come and not feel that they are there for their medical treatment”, she added.
Other than this, the bus is designed in an accessible manner and can accommodate all the equipments. The area inside is also designed in such a way that the team can provide all kinds of therapy and even has a projector attached to it on top. ”Since the roads and the bylanes are very small in Kullu, we had to choose a mid-size bus. We use the projector during our outdoor camps to spread awareness about the therapy among parents. There’s also a rolling shed on one side which can accommodate 15 kids and parents when you open it”, she told Local Samosa.
Challenges and future plans
The team works six days a week and covers different locations in Kullu, including Lug Valley, Manali, and Manikaran town. They also conduct awareness activities in schools and aangan wadis as well as outdoor camps once a month to make people aware of the importance of intervention therapy. It may sound easy that the team drives and go door to door to treat these kids, the journey at times can be pretty challenging.
”The bylanes are very narrow, so driving the bus becomes a little risky. At times, the weather also causes a lot of trouble, especially when it’s raining and the winter is at its peak. Other than this, as the Lug Valley is located in a very remote area, we sometimes find cows and dogs peeping inside the bus, and then getting rid of them is another task”, said Shruti while laughing.
Team Samphia has treated over 800 kids as of now and plans to launch a similar bus in Shimla very soon. Shruti feels this model can be replicated everywhere. ”We certainly can’t operate everywhere, but if any other organization wants to collaborate, we would be more than happy to help them. We have been receiving requests from Gujarat and Ladakh for launching a mobile therapy van there, and so we are working on that as well”, she concluded.
Shruti urges young medical professionals to take up the courses of therapies as she feels they are very rewarding. She also said if anybody would like to volunteer for them, they can reach out to her through her website.